By Lori Bennett
While we wait for outliers to be mathematically eliminated and playoff positioning to be finalized, the post-season picture is forming.
In the Eastern Conference, the Florida Panthers are expected to win the Atlantic Division and the Conference and face a wild card team. The Carolina Hurricanes look poised to win the Metropolitan and face the other wild card team. The Toronto Maple Leafs are separating themselves as the second place team in the Atlantic and will face the team that finishes third. One of the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Boston Bruins will take that spot, and either is a tough first round matchup. Leafs fans everywhere are breaking out in hives at the thought.
In the Western Conference, the Colorado Avalanche will win both the Central Division and the Conference and face a wild card team. The Calgary Flames will win the Pacific Division and confront the other wild card. The Edmonton Oilers appear to be locked in second place in the Pacific and are waiting to see which of the Los Angeles Kings or the Vegas Golden Knights will claim third place. Both Vegas and LA have battled injuries this season, and this may benefit the Oilers in Round 1.
It continues to be a year of individual performances. New York Rangers winger Chris Kreider scored his 50th goal of the season this week, becoming the third player to reach the 50-goal plateau in the 2021-22 season after Auston Matthews and Leon Draisaitl already accomplished the feat.
Johnny Gaudreau is having a stellar season with the Calgary Flames, reaching the 100-point mark this week for the first time in his career. Johnny Hockey picked a pretty nice time to get hot with his contract expiring at the end of this season. Whether it is the Flames or another team, someone is paying through the nose to sign Gaudreau this summer.
The Montreal Canadiens are waiting on an individual performance of another kind. Carey Price has yet to play his first game of the 2021-22 season. He has been working out, and even travelled with the team this past week. As of press deadline, the Habs were still awaiting his first start. While some might be inclined to shut him down for the season, Price’s ability to return to action and perform well this season may have a huge impact for their off-season plans. Will he be well enough to continue his career and, if he is, will it be with the Habs?
The Toronto Raptors had a strong finish to their season to lay claim to the fifth position in the Eastern Conference. They will face the fourth place Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the playoffs.
The best-of-seven-game series was due to begin in Philadelphia on Saturday, April 16th with three games following on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday. The 76ers may be ahead of the Raptors in the standings, but it was the Raptors who won on three of the four occasions the teams met this season.
The Raptors are led by two players from their 2019 championship team, Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam, as well as one of the best coaches in the league in Nick Nurse.
Toronto also boasts a crew of young talent that includes 2021 first-round pick Scottie Barnes. The 76ers will greet the Raps with two elite talents in Joel Embiid and James Harden.
The teams have faced each other twice previously in the playoffs. In 2001 Philadelphia was the victor, but Toronto avenged the loss in 2019 on a poster-worthy buzzer-beater from Kawhi Leonard that clinched the series on their way to winning the championship.
The Raptors are a young team that is not expected to do too much damage this season, and any playoff run can be chalked up to experience for the kids as they develop. That said, any opponent would be wise to not take this group lightly.
Blue Jays Babble
The 2022 baseball season is underway. Last weekend the Jays hosted the Texas Rangers in their home-opening series. After opening the 2020 season in an empty stadium in Buffalo, and the 2021 season in a minor-league stadium in Dunedin, Florida, the Jays were finally at home for a full stadium on opening day. More than 45,000 fans got their money’s worth.
After falling behind badly in the first inning, the Jays bats got going and they pulled off the biggest opening day comeback in team history winning 10-8. They won Saturday’s game 4-3 and lost on Sunday with a score of 12-6. As Meatloaf would say, two out of three ain’t bad.
The Jays were off to New York for a four-game series against the Yankees. The teams split the first two games on Monday and Tuesday, and then on Wednesday night the Jays delivered a drama-packed outing.
Things looked a little grim when Vladimir Guerrero was injured early in the game. The first basemen had his finger gashed early after being stepped on by a runner he was tagging out at first. After getting the finger taped, Vladdy hit three homeruns, along with a double for a total of 14 bases and four runs batted in. In a beautiful individual performance, Guerrero also caught the line drive for the last out, before getting stitches on his injured finger.
The Jays were due to greet the Oakland Athletics for their Easter long weekend series.
*** Lori Bennett is a social worker, policy professional, recreational softball player and coach, and new ukulele-ist. Originally from NL and now based in Toronto, Lori loves a good hockey chat or debate, as long as it remains respectful. She posts game time thoughts on twitter as @lori10habs.